This Mix Between a Satellite and Aircraft Can Stay in the Air for 25 Days

Airbus Defence and Space announced the successful landing of its first aircraft that was part of the Zephyr programme. Zephyr is a High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite (HAPS) that fills a capability gap between satellites and UAVs. This unmanned aircraft runs on solar power, and provides satellite-like services. The new Zephyr S is a mix between a satellite and aircraft.

Uniquely designed for both military and commercial purposes, Zephyr can provide a wide scope of applications, ranging for example from maritime surveillance and services, border patrol missions, communications, forest fire detection and monitoring, or navigation. Operating in the stratosphere at an average altitude of 70,000 feet / 21 kilometers, the ultra-lightweight Zephyr has a wingspan of 25 meters and a weigh of less than 75kg, and flies above weather (clouds, jet streams) and above regular air traffic, covering local or regional footprints. Ideally suited for "local persistence" (ISR/Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance), the Zephyr has the ability to stay focused on a specific area of interest (which can be hundreds of miles wide) while providing it with satellite-like communications and Earth observation services (with greater imagery granularity) over long periods of time without interruption. Not quite an aircraft and not quite a satellite, but incorporating aspects of both, the Zephyr has the persistence of a satellite with the flexibility of a UAV. The only civil aircraft that used to fly at this altitude was Concorde and only the famous military U2 and SR-71 Blackbird could operate at similar levels. The Zephyr successfully achieved several world records, including the longest flight duration without refueling.

After taking off on 11th July in Arizona, USA, Zephyr S logged a maiden flight of over 25 days, the longest duration flight ever made. An application has been made to establish this as a new world record. This maiden flight of the solar powered Zephyr S proves the system capabilities and achieved all the flight’s engineering objectives.

The previous longest flight duration record was also logged by a Zephyr prototype aircraft a few years ago, achieving then more than 14 days continuous flight, which already was ten times longer than any other aircraft in the world.

This new record flight was supported by the UK government and reflects the UK Ministry of Defence’s position as the first customer for this innovative and potentially game-changing capability.

Zephyr will bring new see, sense and connect capabilities to both commercial and military customers. It provides the potential to revolutionize disaster management, including monitoring the spread of wildfires or oil spills. It provides persistent surveillance, tracing the world’s changing environmental landscape and will be able to provide communications to the most unconnected parts of the world. Click here to learn more.